Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has some advice for his strongest supporters in the U.S. Congress: If you don’t like the rise of anti-Semitism that has accompanied Israel’s latest war, then you should pressure Israel to stop killing Palestinians.
An August 5 letter written by one of Erdogan’s top advisers on behalf of the prime minister and obtained by The Daily Beast disputes accusations that his recent statements about Israel were anti-Semitic. Those statements include an assertion on July 19 that Israel’s actions in Gaza “surpassed what Hitler did to them.” A few days earlier, a top newspaper in Turkey affiliated with Erdogan called on Turkish Jews to apologize for the actions of Israel’s military in Gaza.
“Each Israeli attack undermines the peace and tranquility of Jews living all around the world and turns them into targets of hate speech,” wrote Volkan Bozkir, a former Turkish ambassador to the European Union and now an Erdogan adviser and legislator who serves as the chairman of the Turkey-USA Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Caucus and the Turkish parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
He added: “We would therefore recommend that you, instead of trying to silence the legitimate criticisms towards Israel, call on and pressure the Israeli government to put an end to its policies of occupation and destruction. This would be the best and the strongest response to anti-Semitism.”
Bozkir wrote that he was sending the letter to Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) at Erdogan’s behest in response to a letter the Turkish prime minister received last week from four co-chairmen of the Congressional Caucus on U.S.-Turkish Relations and Turkish Americans. Normally that caucus can be counted on to offer strong support for Turkey, a NATO ally that has had a long-standing relationship with the U.S. military going back to the Cold War.
But on July 29, Reps. Foxx, Steve Cohen (D-TN), Gerald Connolly (D-VA), and Ed Whitfield (R-KY) warned Erdogan that some of his statements about Israel and Jews in general “make it increasingly difficult to communicate in a positive way about Turkey when interacting with our colleagues.”
The State Department has condemned Erdogan’s recent remarks. But Secretary of State John Kerry has worked closely with his Turkish counterparts to reach an Israel-Hamas ceasefire. Unlike Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, Turkey has an open political relationship with Hamas. Some of the group’s top leaders reside in Turkey, including Saleh al-Arouri, a man some Israelis suspected of facilitating the June 15 kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers that sparked the current round of fighting.
Charles Asher Small, the director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy, said the August 5 letter written on Erdogan’s behalf is also anti-Semitic, as it blames Jews collectively for the actions of Israel.
Erdogan “is legitimizing the targeting of Jewish people in Turkey and around the world as a result of Israel’s war with Hamas, not the Israel-Palestinian war, as he claims,” said Small. “This is a clear example of anti-Semitism, according to the European Union’s working definition of anti-Semitism.”
That definition holds that blaming Jews collectively for the actions of Israel is a form of anti-Semitism.
An annex attached to Bozkir’s letter recounting the alleged events that led to the latest conflict in Gaza is also likely to chafe lawmakers. It repeats an Internet theory that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu falsely accused Hamas of orchestrating the June 15 kidnappings of three teenagers as a pretext to launch a war on Gaza. On Tuesday, the Shin Bet unsealed court documents that said one of the kidnappers acknowledged that Hamas leaders in Gaza funded the operation.
The annex fails to mention that Hamas launched a barrage of rockets into Israel before Israel responded, first with aerial bombardments and later with a land invasion after thwarting an attack on a kibbutz in southern Israel launched by operatives who emerged in Israeli territory from a secret tunnel.
Rep. Cohen said he was not satisfied with the response from Bozkir. “I am pleased they recognized anti-Semitism is wrong,” he said. “I am afraid they don’t understand some of the elements of anti-Semitism and what contributes to it.”
Bozkir “didn’t address the prime minister’s statements,” Cohen added. “Instead he attacked Israel and put all the blame for the war on Israel and attached all Jews to Israel as if they were a monolith.”